Baseball, Strange But True (Or, The Sleep of Reason Creates Monsters)
I’ve always been a sucker for the Strange but True tales, wherever I can find them. It all began with a weird book my father used to own (first published in 1973) called, “Wisconsin Death Trip.” Also, (to my nine-year old sensibilities) the paintings of Goya, (particularly “Saturn Devouring His Son,“) would both fascinate and terrify me as well.
So whenever I come across even marginally interesting baseball flotsam, I indulge myself like Miguel Cabrera sitting on a 3-2 pitch from Josh Tomlin with the bases loaded.
Here are a few things I’d like to share with you.
1) Lawrence Dolan, (net worth, 3 billion dollars) of Clan Dolan, purchased the Cleveland Indians in the year 2000 for $323 million dollars. Since then, the Indians have finished above .500 just twice over the past eleven seasons. Attendance at Indians home games has gone from #1 (3.5 million fans per year) when he bought the team to near the bottom of the league (about 1.5 million fans per year) under his tenure.
Meanwhile, the value of the Cleveland Indians franchise, even despite the major recession and the poor on-field performance, has actually increased from $323 million to the current (Forbes) estimate of $353 million.
Which just goes to show, if you are filthy rich in America, remarkable incompetence is generally rewarded just as handsomely as is occasional, skillful management.
2) Cincinnati Reds slugger Joey Votto went through the entire 2010 baseball season without once hitting an infield pop-up. In 2011, he hit an infield pop-up just once. Also, through July of 2012, Votto had pulled just one ball foul in his entire career. What does all that mean? It means the man simply never misses his pitch.
In 2012, despite missing about 50 games, he still led the N.L. in walks with 94, and in on-base percentage for the 3rd straight year. His unbelievable .474 on-base percentage means, of course, that he gets on base nearly one time for every two plate appearances.
Those are numbers normally compiled by Little League All-Stars, or by guys named Ted Williams, Barry Bonds, or Babe Ruth.
3) Max Scherzer of the Detroit Tigers has pretty dominant stuff. In 2012, he recorded 231 strikeouts in just 187.2 innings pitched. He posted a 16-7 record, and has now made 133 Major League starts over the past five years.
Somehow, though, Scherzer has never been told that MLB games, unlike Little League contests, last nine innings. For the 28-year old Scherzer, remarkably, has never pitched a single complete game in his career.
Now, as a former teacher (I don’t like to say, ex-teacher, ’cause that sounds a bit too much like “teacher who was fired for reasons sealed away in a Federal Affidavit,”) I got used to people complaining that “teachers hardly work at all,” apparently referring to the cushy 180-day work schedule “enjoyed” by your typical public school teacher.
Putting aside that we didn’t in fact, A) punch a clock, that we did not get paid for the summer (we could opt to get paid through the summer, but that’s not the same as getting paid for the summer), B) Most of us showed up at school quite often on our “off” days, and C) Like cops and firemen, teachers are never really “off-duty.” Whether shopping at the local grocery store, or a Target, a Staples, etc., or even attending a local museum, most teachers are always, ALWAYS, on the lookout for something they can either purchase, beg or steal for their classrooms.
Which brings us back to Scherzer. Is it really too much to ask Scherzer to go nine innings just once? After all, my top salary as a teacher, after 12 years, was about $50,000 (in one of the better paying districts in Maine.) Max Scherzer earned $117,187.50 per start in 2012.
Also, I completed every one of my starts.
And Scherzer has never had to do after-school detention duty.
4) In 1997, despite a league-leading 744 plate appearances, Houston Astros second baseman Craig Biggio did not ground into a single double-play all season. Now, GIDP is not a stat that has been religiously recorded throughout baseball history. In fact, before, WWII, it was often not recorded at all.
Yet, with 65+ seasons available to analyze, here’s a short but interesting list of players who cannot make the same claim as Biggio (minimum 400 plate appearances):
1) Rickey Henderson
2) Tim Raines
3) Lou Brock
4) Maury Wills
5) Jackie Robinson
6) Vince Coleman
7) George Brett
8) Tony Gwynn
9) Juan Pierre
10) Dave Lopes
11) Pete Rose
12) Roberto Alomar
13) Eric Davis
14) Barry Larkin
15) Ron LeFlore
Admittedly, a statistic like this is as much an aberration as it is a sign of incredible skill. But what else can we do but genuflect in the general direction of Houston whenever Biggio’s name is so much as mentioned?
5) Rawlings, the official manufacturer of all baseballs used in the Major Leagues, pays its employees in Costa Rica about $1.50 an hour. Each employee must be able to hand-stitch one baseball every fifteen minutes, and each employee works an average of 11-12 hours per day. They are required to meet a minimum quota of 156 balls per week. This one factory produces well over two million baseballs each year.
A large percentage of the workers in this factory will eventually develop carpel-tunnel syndrome, or other physically debilitating injuries, within two to three years. They are not allowed to speak to one another during the course of an entire shift, and must ask permission to use the bathroom. And, of course, any discussion regarding organizing a labor union immediately results in the termination of employees foolish enough to engage in these “secret” discussions, despite the fact that, under Costa Rican law, its citizens do have the legal right to organize.
All of this information has been made available to Major League Baseball, to the Player’s Union, and, of course, has been pointed out to Rawlings, U.S.A. To this point, none of these entities has shown the slightest bit of interest in the health and welfare of the people who make their multi-billion dollar industry possible.
Perhaps strangest of all, there has never been a Major League baseball player from Costa Rica.
- The sleep of reason produces monsters (zephotographist.wordpress.com)